Death of a movement

Arvind Kejriwal, of the erstwhile NGO India Against Corruption, has made quite a splash since he went political. Even before he named his outfit as “Aam Aadmi Party” (AAP) he had commenced his campaign against the entrenched political establishment. His exposes, virtually like serial ‘bombs’, have already scorched Robert Vadra, the son in-law of Sonia Gandhi,  Chairperson of the ruling formation United Progressive Alliance, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, the suave but loyal to the point of being a sycophant of Sonia Gandhi, Nitin Gadkari, the reigning president of the principal Opposition,  the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Reliance Chief and the richest Indian Mukesh Ambani, and, lately, sugar mill owners of Western Maharashtra, presumably targeting the Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar, currently Agriculture Minister at the Centre. The Ambanis came in for further treatment in Kejriwal’s accusations regarding their alleged unaccounted wealth in foreign banks details of which, though suppressed, were allegedly available with the government.

Widely reported, discussed and debated in the print and electronic media, Kejriwal’s accusations need no repetition here. Suffice to say that most of his allegations, like those against Vadra, Khurshid, Gadkari etc., were on the basis of documentary evidences either ferreted out by him/his colleagues or given to him by people who got adversely impacted by the wrong-doings of the accused. By administering practically a weekly dose of accusations against some politician or the other or people of substance, he literally put fear of God in the corrupt among them. Setting a veritable cat among the pigeons, he made many politicians anxious making them wonder whether they would be next in line for the crucifixion.

Predictably, the social activist-turned politician came in for choicest of abuses from politicians, especially those of the Congress. While Khurshid called him a guttersnipe, they felt their prognostications about Kejriwal’s political ambitions had come true. But they were not quite prepared for his, what they called, “hit and run” tactics – throwing allegations at the chosen target and then moving on. His singular crime, however, was that he exposed the machinations of Robert Vadra in his new-found business of real estate that helped him in accumulating, what people claimed, the fastest billions. Congressmen, displaying classical sycophancy, came out in droves to defend Vadra although they confessed that he was not a Congressman.  Yet, instead of asking the government to investigate the allegations, they hurled invectives at Kejriwal.

Probably for the first time ever somebody had the gall, the insolence and the chutzpah to make accusations against a ‘personage’ belonging to the (Gandhi) “Dynasty”. Associating Kejriwal with the BJP and accusing him of impropriety, Digvijay Singh, Congress General Secretary, revealed that his party knew about all along the wheeling and dealing of the son in-law of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but always acted “appropriately”, never breathing a word about it – a confessional as queer as one could be.

Going political for Kejriwal was, apparently, a necessity. His 9-day fast in July earlier this year failed to achieve any result. The political class just ignored it and the government did not yield to his demand of creation of a special investigation team for investigating the 15 Central ministers who were alleged to have had cases of corruption against them. Perhaps, it was ill-timed, too, as Parliament was yet to meet. Realising that the government was intractable and that it was best to fight the politicians politically and beat them in their own game he decided to create an apolitical party to fight elections.

 That, however, meant severance of the ties with the Gandhian, Anna Hazare, who has always been averse to politics and politicking. Parting ways with Anna, while Kejriwal got busy in his weekly exposes Anna was trying to collect like-minded people around him for his own brand of anti-corruption movement. Sadly, in the process the movement that mobilised the middle classes for the first time ever in 2011 got not only divided losing its innate strength but also lost focus.

 The IAC movement of April and August 2011 led by Anna had a singular aim, that of eradication of corruption through the instrumentality of enactment of a law for creation of an independent and powerful Lokpal (ombudsman). In the backdrop of reports of massive corruption in conducting the Commonwealth Games and allocation of 2G spectrum it caught the imagination of the people, firing the youth and the rising numbers of middle classes. As the movement gathered strength the media, too, got into the act and gave extensive 24-hour coverage. The tech-savvy members of the IAC made deft use of the social media making the movement somewhat akin to the campaigns in North Africa and West Asia for regime change that eventually came to be known collectively as “Arab Spring”. The government at the Centre was flustered and indulged in nervous acts exemplified, inter alia, by the attempt to wean away from the movement yoga-guru Ramdev who too had muscled in into it. The attempt boomeranged and the political class was virtually brought to its knees. A “sense of the house” resolution was quickly rustled up and unanimously passed agreeing action by the government on some sticking points and communicated to Anna.

 Acquiring a larger than life image, Anna broke his 11-day fast and retired to fight for the cause another day. Standing as a colossus, he along with his IAC activists had mobilised public opinion charging up the whole nation against political and bureaucratic corruption.  A patently middle class movement, IAC’s offshoots cropped up virtually in every nook and urban corner of the country. Young and old joined it putting the government on the back foot. 

Journals abroad connected it with other such movements of the middle classes in emerging markets. From Chile to China to North Africa and Middle East to India middle classes rose against the established systems for reasons as varied as environmental degradation (in China), overbearing role of public sector in the field of education (in Chile), against autocratic dictatorships in “Arab Spring” countries and rampant political and bureaucratic corruption in India. The rise of middle classes, especially in developing Asia, has given them a new-found power to swing changes in their respective polities. The most rapid rise has been in India and China they are restive and want a good life. The political class, unlike in the past, has been compelled to pay greater attention to their views as the same is backed up by significant strength.

By the run-away success of the movement, one had hoped that the IAC would eventually emerge somewhat like The Tea Party in the US – minus its ideology – playing a significant role in choosing and canvassing for clean and incorruptible candidates and try and have those who were suspect defeated at the hustings. By itself the IAC clearly had no way of getting round the prevailing electoral system. For it the best option, therefore, seemed to have been to bring as many clean candidates from the existing political parties into the parliament as possible to get rid of the scourge of corruption.   

Alas, that was not to be. A set of circumstances, from Anna’s failing health to alleged manipulation of the media by the government against the IAC to an ill-timed campaign in July 2012 and eventually its coming apart ensured the death of the movement that had raised such hopes. The dramatis personae of the movement are all intelligent and committed people and yet they somehow could not see eye to eye about its progression. With two branches of it going their separate ways their respective strengths got mitigated and, so has been their impact. Losing steam, the ‘Indian Spring’ came to an end.

With the formation the AAP the last nail in the coffin of the IAC (as people knew it) has been hammered in. The 2014 elections not being far away, Kejriwal has given himself a daunting task to organise his outfit well enough to enter the money-centric Indian electoral process. Only time will tell how he fares in his enterprise.

The IAC split, however, was a big let-down for the people, a severe jolt to the civil society which had rallied round in strength and gave it its unstinted support. It is highly unlikely that such massive support would ever be conjured up for an anti-corruption movement in the foreseeable future.